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Haystack Building faced myriad obstacles

Thu., March 8, 2012

The neighbors affectionately call it the Haystack Building, because of the rock formations around it. It’s been under construction since 2009 but it wasn’t until mid-January that the project finally cleared permit requirements at Spokane City Hall.

It’s located just west of the South Perry Business District and is unlike other buildings in the neighborhood: it’s a combined yoga studio and apartment building.

Owners Rebecca Laurence and Lars Neises are building the Haystack Building at the far northern end of the property where they live.

“Lars always wanted to build a yoga studio,” said Laurence about how they got the idea for the building. “Most yoga studios are in old refurbished buildings. Sometimes they are not ideal. He always wanted to build the perfect studio.”

When the Haystack Building is done, it will feature two second-story yoga studios with a joint reception area and five one-bedroom apartments – four on the ground level, and one at the top level. The building is nestled in the landscape in such a manner that the upstairs yoga studios have easy wheelchair access via a flat ramp in the back.

The Haystack Building is obviously not a cookie-cutter project – had the builders realized how difficult it would be to get all the permits they needed, they probably wouldn’t have tried.

“We could have built a 42-unit apartment complex here just like that one,” said Neises, pointing to a neighboring complex. “That would not have been as difficult as building this building, but that’s not what we wanted to do.”

One problem they encountered was that yoga is considered a retail business in Spokane’s comprehensive plan. Their property is not zoned for retail use.

“Everyone knows yoga is not retail. I think that’s a problem with an outdated comprehensive plan,” Neises said. “Yoga meets all the requirements to be listed as a service.”

There have been no complaints from neighbors, except from an older gentleman who needed reassurance that yoga is not a religious cult.

“We cleared that up,” said Laurence, with a smile.

Last fall, on the brink of giving up, Laurence invited Councilman Jon Snyder to come see the building. He was impressed and went to bat for the project down at city hall.

“I’ve known Rebecca for a long time and I have great respect for her,” Snyder said. “Here’s this great project in a part of town that has seen some significant disinvestment, there should be something we could do to help them.”

Snyder said he had a brainstorming session with Scott Chesney, director of Spokane’s Planning Services Department.

“I understand that we have uniform codes for a reason and that we don’t want to make too many spot decisions,” Snyder said, adding that Chesney was supportive. “This is just such a great infill project.”

The South Perry Business and Neighborhood Association wrote a letter in support of the Haystack Building.

The letter states in part that, “The architectural aesthetics of the building takes full advantage of naturally occurring geologic formations on site, while blending in with the existing mix of single family residences and a variety of apartment complexes.”

Laurence said at times it was overwhelming trying to keep the Haystack Building on track.

She said she and Neises aren’t developers, but “just normal people” who own a piece of property in the middle of a neighborhood, and wanted to do something good for themselves and the community. She calls the construction “over-the-top great.” For instance, if a future owner would like to change the use of the building, the interior walls can be moved or removed and the building will remain standing.

“We wanted to build the best building we could, we wanted to go as green as possible,” Laurence said. “We are just happy that things are working out well.”

Snyder said smaller neighborhood mixed-use projects like the Haystack Building deserve better support.

“There are so many more places in the city where we could do this, for instance mixing businesses at the ground level with apartments on top,” said Snyder. “At the city we got to be able to remove the roadblocks for people who are willing to try something different.”

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